“I Was VOMK’s First Prisoner Alert”
The story of VOMK’s first prisoner alert (https://vomkorea.com/prisoner-profiles/), Lee Chul-Ho, begins like that of many others of our North Korean underground church partners. In the late 1990’s, during North Korea’s great famine, the Arduous March, Lee Chul-Ho left North Korea for China, where he encountered a South Korean missionary. The missionary led him and other North Koreans, who had fled North Korea due to hunger, to Christ. He discipled them, had them read the Bible, and trained them. For a few years, Lee Chul-Ho became a leader in the group, teaching and discipling other North Koreans.
Lee was arrested in the early 2000’s by the Chinese police. When investigated, he stated that, as so many others had done, he had merely come to China because he was hungry. The Chinese police sent him back to North Korea, where he was imprisoned, and subsequently released.
Lee Chul-Ho demonstrates the way he would read the Bible in prison.
Undeterred, Lee crossed the river into China again. Lee could have defected to South Korea. In fact, he had already helped some of his family members to defect and had sent them there. But Lee himself stayed behind out of a desire to help his countrymen.
Lee was caught and arrested by the Chinese police again in 2002.
“When I first connected with VOMK, it was in the prison.
For ten years, every two months, I received many letters from the US and other countries abroad. I was VOMK’s first Prisoner Alert”
Lee would go on to spend ten years at the prison. It was during his imprisonment that VOMK first connected with him, and he became VOMK’s first Prisoner Alert. Lee also met other Christians in the prison who heard that he had been arrested while doing Christian work. They began to call him a “North Korean Christian pastor” in the prison. While there, Lee preached, taught, evangelized, and distributed Bibles and Christian books to those who showed interest in the faith. Most of the North Koreans there were sent back to North Korea. Some may have died after being sent back, but Lee is sure that at least some of them went on to become incorporated into the underground church in North Korea.
Once, in the prison, a young North Korean man, in his early twenties, came to Lee and asked him about God. When Lee shared his faith with him, he thought deeply about God, then confessed that he wanted to believe in Jesus, live a righteous life, and submit his life to the Lord. The young man revealed that he had been a broker, trafficking North Korean women to Chinese people. In fact, he had even trafficked his own mother, so that she would have money to send back to their family in North Korea.
Pastor Lee Chul-Ho making a UNKCM ministry pack with VOMK's NK Bibles.
Not all of those whom Lee led to the Lord in prison had such a picturesque conversion. In the prison, there were two other young North Korean men who had defected to China and gone on a crime spree, robbing valuables and goods from house to house. The two had been caught, arrested, and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life imprisonment. When faced with the gospel, they did not receive it fervently, but they were not opposed to it or refuse it, either. They followed Lee well, but not necessarily the Lord.
In 2011, by a stroke of God’s grace, Lee was released from the prison on the same day that North Korea declared that Kim Jong-Il had died. When the Chinese police brought Lee to be sent back to North Korea, the North Korean border office was closed. An officer who respected Lee seized the opportunity to arrange for Lee to be released as a person of unknown nationality. Because Lee’s family had been living in South Korea, Lee was able to obtain a South Korean passport from the South Korean government and come to South Korea.
Since then, Pastor Lee has planted a multi-generational church for North Korean defectors and their families in South Korea. Pastor Lee also oversees some discipleship ministries operating on the defection route. VOMK has been able to support him and his discipleship work, most notably by taking some of VOMK’s Underground University North Korean defector discipleship training students on a mission trip to a discipleship base Lee oversees. The students ministered to and helped disciple the defectors there.